When it comes to dust, size matters.
Crystalline silica (silica) is found in sand, stone, concrete and mortar. It is also used to make various products, including composite stone used to make kitchen and bathroom benchtops, bricks, tiles and some plastics.
When workers cut, crush, drill, polish, saw or grind products that contain silica, dust particles are generated that are small enough to lodge deep in the lungs and cause illness or disease, including silicosis.
Some dust particles can be so small that they are not visible; these are commonly referred to as respirable particles.
Respirable silica dust particles are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and cause irreversible lung damage.
The dust particles created by mining fall into two size categories, each with different effects on the human body.
Exposure to high volumes of ultra-fine respirable dust over an extended period can lead to the development of mine dust lung disease.
|Inhalable dust (about 0.1mm or 100µm diameter)||Visible to the naked eyeGets caught in the mouth, nose and upper respiratory tractExpelled through coughing and sneezing and through mucous and sputum productionShort-term effects – eyes and nose irritation, health conditions such as asthma and bronchitis|
|Respirable dust (about 0.005mm or 5µm diameter)||InvisiblePasses through defences and directly into lung tissueCauses irritation to the lungs, which the body attempts to heal, causing scar tissue to form (fibrosis), replacing healthy tissueIncreases mucous production, shortness of breath and wheezing|
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